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Europe Extends Copyright

On September 12, the European Commission passed a Directive extending the copyright on music recordings from 50 years to 70 years. Each member state must implement the Directive through its own legislative measures.

Eight EU member states voted against the measure. According to the New York Times, Belgium dissented: “A term extension is not an appropriate measure to improve the situation of the performing artists. It seems that the measure will mainly benefit record producers and not performing artists, will only have a very limited effect for most of the performing artists [and] will have a negative impact on the accessibility of cultural material.” The new law will be more in line with the U.S. term of protection, the details of which are available on Cornell’s website.

The legislation will affect a slew of songs from the 1960s, which were about to lose copyright protection. Yes, that means that the Beatles will not be entering the public domain anytime soon. Dame Shirley Bassey said, “Unlike diamonds, copyright is not forever, but I’m happy it will last a little bit longer.” The guardian reports that the music industry is pleased with the outcome, although it has been lobbying for several years to extend the extension to a 95 year term. However, not everyone is happy to see an extension. Pete Waterman told the Independent, “Most musicians, session musicians, are lucky if they get £20 a week out of their copyright.” Shane Richmond, Head of Technology at the Telegraph, asks, “Will copyright extensions ever end?” Richmond views these extensions negatively and details research indicating that royalties are rarely directed to artists themselves. One statistic shows that 80% of artists will be only £50 better off because of the new law.

What does this mean for the art law field? It demonstrates a general trend toward extension of copyright protections. As further harmonization occurs, the length of copyright protection will likely increase rather than decrease. These developments largely ignore real concerns that smaller artists have about making money off their own work and the concerns that all artists and non-artists alike have about fair use.